Chocolate Ache: Ainsley Drew shares her dogs terrifying trip down the Hershey highway;
[Note: If you’ve stumbled on this page somehow because the Internet led you here in the event of your pet being poisoned, call The National Animal Poison Control Center Hotline at 1-800-548-2423.]
I went to Nebraska with Booger in tow. Well, technically in TSA-approved, overpriced bag. But she went with me to Omaha, we were going on an adventure.
This wasn’t her first time traveling. She’d been on a semi-successful road trip up the coast of New England. After driving all the way up there, we wound up in a two-hundred year old bed and breakfast in New Hampshire, where she promptly fell off the bed and cut her foot. While she wasn’t phased (or slowed down) in the least by the blood pouring out of her paw, I quickly packed up our stuff and checked out, driving five hours home to New York in the dead of night. In total I drove nearly eleven hours that day. She slept on my lap. In spite of her clumsiness, I learned that the Chihuahua travels well.
And her paw was fine. Fortunately she has a super-hot (yet curiously creepy) veterinarian, so visits to his office are less traumatic than they could be. Between my daddy issues and the fact that, on the first day I met him, he killed my previous dog (RIP, Snack) I’m pretty attached to Greenwich Village Animal Hospital and Hot Vet.
Our trip to the midwest provided many hurdles we needed to cross as a family. Booger’s first flight. Booger’s first introduction to a cat. Booger’s first ingestion of Acepromezine, aka “puppy Xanax.” The night before we left, I cycled through a whole host of possible calamities in my head. The drug would kill her or make her ill. The cat would shred her eyes out of her sockets, or, worse, they’d attack one another and both get hurt. She would yip and whine on the flight, thereby making me “that” shitty passenger, much like she had on her first train ride to Long Island. (To her defense, the LIRR sucks. A lot.)
But everything went fine. The Acepromezine knocked her out like Lindsay Lohan after a few bottles of “kombucha” and while the cat had some initial difficulty emotionally coping with the intrusion on his space, the two of them worked it out so that they could coexist with a fair amount of chasing and a shared bowl of dog food. The cat was really into dog food.
Fast-forward to the end of our trip. My flight was at around 7AM, so I went to bed early. At around 2AM I heard Booger making noise, a peculiar little cough that I’d never heard her make. Of course, I was half-asleep when she started the curious chortling, so I chalked it up to her inhaling a ball of cat hair or something equally possible, like that she choked on her own spit or was smoking pot in the kitchen.
At 4 I woke up and pieced my woozy self together while the puppy zoomed around like a coke fiend halfway through the last LCD Soundsystem album. I thought, “Wow, my dog sure is intuitive. She can tell we’re leaving and she’s excited to go home.” About an hour and a half later I called for a cab to take me to the airport. While shoving errant stockings and bottles of girlie potions into my bag, I picked up Booger’s blanket in order to get her carrying case ready for the journey home. A chunk of something solid and brown fell onto the carpet.
Usually if something brown is found near anything associated with my dog, it is poop, which she loves to produce, eat, play with, and put in places never before touched by excrement, like any clean pair of socks that are on my feet. However, this time the mahogany mass was far too flat to be poop. In fact, it was nearly the shape of a perfect square, like some sort of historic artifact, a paleolithic bathroom tile or the precursor to the modern guitar pick, albeit one lined with teeth-marks. I gingerly held it close to my face and looked at it, noticing that it didn’t have the usual eau de pooh, but instead a not-so-subtle aroma of chili and…chocolate.
It was then that I realized what had happened. The cat had knocked down the artisanal chili-laced dark chocolate bar that I’d given my host as a gift. It had been on the counter, sitting there innocently throughout the duration of our trip. Once it fell, Booger had eaten it and gotten high, the effects of which she was obviously still suffering. In the battle of cats vs. dogs, cats were clearly winning. The coughing had likely been because of the ancho chili powder that the bar’s Brooklyn-based manufacturer had blended into the mix in order to charge nearly $7 for it. Why my half-Mexican dog wasn’t able to handle a little heat in her health hazard is beyond me. Perhaps it should have come with a side of arsenic laced guac.
Because the bar was small-batch and fancy, there was nothing written on what remained of its wrapper other than Spicy Dark. The puppy had eaten the majority of it.
Anybody who has ever had a dog likely knows what I’m about to say, but chocolate is toxic to dogs. I had no idea how much she’d consumed, but basic math, logic, and a quick Internet search revealed that it was a lethal dose.
Before I continue with my cautionary tale, let me break it down for you, science-style. Chocolate contains two types of stimulants that are part of the drug class methylxanines: caffeine and theobromine. While caffeine in large quantities is great for an insufferable workday and, in even larger quantities, is lethal to everyone, there’s only a slight amount of it in chocolate. But theobromine, which is a toxic compound, spikes the stuff in a much larger dose. Theobromine can send a dog to the great kennel in the sky if he or she eats merely 100-150 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. (For those of you dumb at maths like me, a kilogram = 2.2 pounds and a milligram is 1/1000 of a gram.) As for caffeine, it’s toxic to people at 150 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, which is the same ratio that can kill a dog. What makes a puppy’s ingestion of chocolate even worse is that theobromine isn’t metabolized quickly, its half life inside of a dog’s body is 17.5 hours.
As I made my way to the cab, I called Hot Vet. It was before office hours, so I got the messaging service which, after hearing my predicament, immediately gave me the number to the ASPCA’s poison control hotline. Once connected, things went from bad to dreadful. Indeed, Booger had eaten enough chocolate to kill her. I mean, the dog is only four pounds, it wouldn’t have taken much. What’s worse? The toxicity increases the darker the chocolate is. It takes 20 ounces of milk chocolate to end the life of a twenty pound dog, but only six ounces of semisweet or two ounces of baker’s chocolate to do the same. The bar of dark chocolate that Booger wolfed down was the human equivalent of a bottle of bleach with a heroin chaser. Unless my pocket-sized pooch had the staying power of Keith Richards, things weren’t looking good.
“Is there any way you can cancel your fight and go to an emergency clinic? This is a life-threatening situation,” the woman said. “You shouldn’t fly with her. She’ll likely have a seizure during the flight.”
Financially and logistically, this was as reasonable as asking me to build my own plane to fly us home. So the ASPCA, Booger, and myself were forced to implement plan B. Miraculously I was able to find a 24 hour convenience store, where I ran in and purchased hydrogen peroxide and peanut butter. Following the instructions of the woman on the line, I forced two plastic spoonfuls of the chemicals down her throat, followed by a bit of smooth Jif to get the taste out of her mouth. She threw up in a matter of minutes, but I couldn’t tell how much of it was chocolate and how much of it was miscellaneous Chihuahua chow. Standing outside of the airport, on the curb, peering at dog puke under a dim streetlight, I fought back tears. It was freezing outside. The look on Booger’s face was a mix of “what the fuck, you’re harshing my mellow” and “what the hell have you done, this sucks.” She looked like me every morning during my first year of college.
As advised by the lady, I administered small amounts of water followed by the puppy Xanax, the same amount as I had given her for the first flight. She said there was a chance that the pill would slow Boogs’ heart rate down and reduce the risk of complications or seizures. My vomit-coated, miserable-eyed dog was doped to the gills. We boarded the plane and I wondered if, when we touched down in New York, I’d be hauling a puppy purse filled with dead weight.
The flight was a nightmare. I’ve written extensively about my fear of flying and how I hate it. I assure you, I will not be doing it again. Ever. Call me the Lars von Trier of dog ownership, we’re done with planes. It took two flight attendants and a Christian missionary to intervene and stop me from screaming and crying during the two and a half hours of continuous turbulence. When the wheels hit the tarmac at LaGuardia Airport, Booger was still alive, and I appeared to be closer to respiratory and cardiac failure than she did.
By the end of that night, she was right as rain. Granted, I wouldn’t let her out of my sight for an instant. I wrote with her in my lap. I cooked dinner with her under my arm. I took a shower and washed the vomit off of her at the same time. We slept in the same bed. I couldn’t stop looking at her and tearing up. Man’s best-friend, maybe. My best-friend? Definitely.
While this story has a happy ending, and Booger will live to enjoy many more fecal feasts and poop-permeated playtimes, it could have ended horribly. So I’m going to provide some advice for dog-owners out there that I would have found useful the other day. (If you’re a cat person, your pussy isn’t immune. Cats have an even lower tolerance for chocolate. But fortunately they don’t usually get into the stuff, as cats can’t taste sweetness. There’s your ace for trivia night.)
Remember, I’m not a veterinarian. I’m just a slut with a dog and some stories. But here’s what the Internet and this experience taught me:
A FEW THINGS TO KNOW TO KEEP YOUR DOG FROM DEATH BY CHOCOLATE
First of all, let me get this out of the way. There’s no antidote for chocolate poisoning.
More bad news? Your dog can show signs of theobromine poisoning or chocolate toxicity anywhere from four to twenty-four hours after eating it. Theobromine stays in a dog’s body for a long, long time, even if your dog is like mine and shits more frequently than Justin Bieber gets Googled.
The darker the chocolate, the more concentrated the toxins. If your dog has eaten any chocolate at all, it’s best to call your vet. A 9-pound dog can experience signs of chocolate toxicity after eating as little as one ounce, so call ‘em. Even if you’re drunk after a holiday party and Fido only ate a bite of the Advent calendar. Chances are, you’ve already paid your vet a shitton of money to keep your pup healthy, calling in an emergency should be a no brainer.
Which means, I repeat, if your dog ate chocolate, it is an emergency. You probably wouldn’t accept “But it was just a little bit of meth, mom!” from your kid. One Hershey Kiss could kill ‘em. Call your vet.
Signs of chocolate toxicity include:
Increased body temperature
Increased reflex responses (which was why Booger became like the Looney Tunes Tasmanian Devil on fast-forward)
Increased heart rate
Low blood pressure
Other things the ASPCA worker told me to look out for included shaking, which can be caused by low blood sugar, staggering, and drooling. (Drooling more than normal, bulldog owners.)
What your vet might have you do is what I did, induce vomiting. There are two ways to do this, though I guess you can say that forcing your dog to watch Kim’s Fairytale Wedding could be a third. More reliably, you can give your a single teaspoon of hydrogen peroxide followed by a bit of peanut butter or syrup of ipecac. These days vets often recommend using syrup of ipecac instead of H2O2 because hydrogen peroxide can cause esophageal ulcers.
If your dog is acting like a nutjob, running around spastically, or having seizures after consuming cocoa candy, time is of the fucking essence. Get to the fucking vet, stat. Any vet. Once you’re there, the vet will likely give your dog an IV of fluids and anti-seizure meds. They may also give your pooch something to protect their heart, as supporting cardiovascular function is really important in the event of a canine chocolate crisis. Other possible treatment may include supporting respiration, maintaining a healthy balance of electrolytes, administering charcoal, and monitoring them to make sure fluid isn’t gathering in the gut.
The ASPCA has that hotline you can call and get veterinary advice for a nominal fee. (I paid $65 bucks, which was well worth it, as it saved Booger’s life.) You’re paying for volunteers who answer the phone and provide information, even in the earliest hours of the morning, even to a histrionic girl flying home from Nebraska.
The National Animal Poison Control Center Hotline: 1-800-548-2423
A List of Possibly Delicious Foods That Your Dog Should NEVER Eat
So there you go. Feed your dog dog food. Go to the vet. Keep chocolate far, far, far away from where dogs can reach it or cats can knock it to the floor. And hug your pet. ‘Cause it’s likely that you realize they’re important to you, but often it’s during a life-threatening emergency that you’re forced to recognize just how much.